Virginia Harrison says she felt the first stings of racism on a childhood visit to an amusement park in Maryland. After waiting eagerly with a ticket in hand for her turn on a ride, she wasn't allowed to board.
She asked why.
"Because you are black," she was told.
The rest of the day, the little girl watched white children enjoy the rides and thought: "I am going to fix these people." But the little girl became a tolerant woman.
"I decided to rise above racism and not let it bring me down," said Ms. Harrison, director of the county Community Relations Commission.
She told that story last night at an informational meeting of the Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, which she helped found.
The group organized about a year ago "out of concern from the hate literature posted around the county," said Gary Honeman to about 60 people gathered at Union Street United Methodist Church in Westminster.
"We wanted to make a strong statement against hate activities. We also found a scarcity of opportunities for crossing racial and ethnic boundaries in this county."
The volunteer citizens group wants to be an educational force working with others committed to racial equality, Mr. Honeman said. Members are asking county residents to pledge racial justice in 1993. They hope to enlist 5,000 signatures in a drive to end racism.
The pledges would serve as symbols of unity and advocacy for racial justice in Carroll County.
CCRE members hope to promote a standard of racial inclusiveness and lend community strength and support to victims of hate crimes. They also want to be a visible presence in the face of hate groups and to combat the subtle forms of racism in schools and neighborhoods.
"We can make a difference in a positive way," said Ms. Harrison. "It starts with the man in the mirror."
The pledge gives signers a concrete way to act on their commitments, said Mr. Honeman, one of four CCRE coordinators. "This is the way to empower people, one person at a time, and to reduce the sense of helplessness and apathy."
Members are planning a conference from 9 a.m. to noon April 17 at St. Paul's Church in Westminster. Tom Hurst, of On Earth Peace Assembly, is organizing the event.